Our View: Senate scandal has few surprises

An audit of Canadian senators’ expenses, released Tuesday, holds a number of interesting items.

We now know that among other things, senators billed to the public the costs of travel to wedding anniversaries and for the hardship and expense of living in Ottawa while they treated their “primary residences” in other parts of the country like vacation cottages. Others seem to have billed taxi trips and business travel that had nothing to do with official duties.

There is a sort of prurient interest in exactly where the money has been going. What odd expenses lay buried in the complete report? 

And on the other hand, nothing in there will surprise us. If this audit (or the next audit, investigation, or leak) turns up evidence that senators expensed the cost of having a troupe of dancing elephants at their summer jamboree, most Canadians will roll their eyes and shrug.

Very few Canadians have any respect for the Senate. There are some who think it is either too difficult to abolish, given the constitutional hurdles, or who think it could be usefully reformed. But in its current form, it spends a significant amount of money without doing anything of significance.

The Senate is supposed to be the chamber of sober second thought, its appointed lifers allegedly less worried about the rough and tumble election cycle than their compatriots in the House of Commons.

In practice, it’s just as partisan, packed with party backers being rewarded for long service.

In theory, the Senate can introduce its own legislation (as long as it doesn’t involve new spending or taxes) but very seldom do major new laws begin there. 

Whether abolition or reform is the route Canadians want to take, what the ongoing scandals make clear is that the Senate cannot continue the way it is. Every major party needs to make its position clear on how it will deal with the Senate.

– M.C..

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